AVON LAKE — With the school year starting soon, local police are stepping up enforcement for illegally passing school buses, and Avon Lake officials are potentially adding jail time for drivers who don’t.
Avon Lake City Council is looking at stiffening the city’s penalties for the offense. By state law, violators can be fined $500 and have their driver’s license suspended. The ordinance would increase that fine to $750, and give judges the authority to sentence violators to up to 30 days in jail.
Councilman David Kos, who introduced the ordinance, said the greater penalty will promote students’ safety getting on and off the bus. He said Avon Lake will be one of the first communities in the area to add the possibility of jail time for this offense.
“I’m glad that Avon Lake is one of the first communities to take a hard stance on this,” he said.
Kos said the ordinance was introduced because of the alarming rates that school bus drivers were reporting the offense. On March 20, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services asked bus drivers in Ohio to keep track of how many drivers illegally passed them. The 4,145 drivers who participated reported 1,501 illegal passings.
Avon Lake bus drivers participated, and Kos said on that day they reported 11 instances of drivers illegally passing them. He said those numbers, along with the recent awareness around the issue, spurred Council’s push to increase the penalty.
“Saving yourself 30 seconds in time to get to work in not worth putting a child’s life at risk,” Kos said.
Kos said he expects Council to suspend the rules and vote on the ordinance at its next meeting Aug. 19. He said the ordinance would be passed with emergency, making it effective before school starts for Avon Lake on Aug. 21.
Avon Lake Police Chief Duane Streator and Avon Police Chief Richard Bosley said there will be an increased presence around school buses and school zones. Bosley said illegal passing also has been an issue for Avon’s bus drivers.
“We get complaints every year from the bus drivers,” Bosley said. “And the numbers are going up.”
Bosley said he hopes the increased enforcement will help spread awareness and remind drivers that it isn’t worth saving the time to illegally pass the bus.
“It takes a few minutes to save a life,” he said.
North Ridgeville Lt. Kevin Jones said North Ridgeville police will continue to vigorously enforce school bus passing. He said the addition of cameras on school buses has helped. He said there’s no plan to do anything different for the beginning of the school year, but that the department will post officers in problem areas.
“If we get an area where somebody is a continual problem, we’ll have guys sit in the threat area and wait for them,” Jones said.
Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Bob Scott said the biggest thing for the schools is making people aware of the safety issue illegal passing causes.
“Anything that can be done to make people aware of how dangerous that is for our kids, we’re all for it,” Scott said.